Yoga language: myth-busting twists and inversions

Amy Matthews is the co-author of Yoga Anatomy, the co-director of The Breathing Project’s Advanced Studies Program in New York City and has been teaching anatomy and kinesiology for over 15 years. Matthews did some yoga myth-busting for that I think everyone should know… (


First, “Twists”


Q: Do twists really “wring out” and cleanse the internal organs? Is that even beneficial?

Amy Matthews: There are a number of ways that a statement like “twists wring out the organs” is inaccurate and incomplete if we are looking at the anatomy and physiology of the visceral organs (the organs in the thoracic, abdominal and pelvic cavities).

Definitions: moving the organs around in relation to each other = mobility; movement within an organ (like the beating of the heart) = motility.

Any movement that changes the shape of the thoracic, abdominal and pelvic cavities (spine, ribcage, abdominal wall or pelvic floor … including breathing) can move the organs in relation to each other . Movements that articulate the spine (flexion, extension, lateral flexion and axial extension) – mobilize the organs. However, organs are positioned so that no single movement will mobilize every organ!

The motility of the organs is affected by a wide variety of factors, including signals from the nervous system and the endocrine system. Increasing mobility in the organs can increase blood flow, which brings in nutrients and oxygen and takes away by-products. To a degree, increased circulation can help each organ function at its best.

QTwists are often touted as aids to digestion. Is this correct?

Amy Matthews: The function of the digestive organs (stomach, small/large intestine) is to transport contents from one opening in the body (the mouth) to the opening at the other end (the anus), along the way extracting water and nutrients. The more mobility there is in the intestines in particular, the more easily the contents can move through. And if by “improved digestion” we actually mean less constipation, twists that mobilize the abdomen might indeed be helpful with “moving things along.” (i.e., if “improved digestion” = better absorption)

Secondly, “Inversions”


QCan inversions increase the blood flow or oxygen flow to the brain? Improve circulation?

Amy Matthews:We are constantly in relationship to gravity, and when we change our relationship to gravity it has an effect on our body.

The circulatory system ensures that there is an appropriate amount of blood flowing to each tissue in the body – so if the circulatory system is functioning well, there will be just enough blood flowing to the brain, and an inversion will not have any effect on that blood flow, in a positive or negative sense. (More blood flow to the brain is NOT a better thing.)

A healthy circulatory system is an adaptable one – one that is able to increase and decrease blood pressure as needed. So any activity that invites the circulatory system to adapt is one that will “improve” it, in some way.

This is just an example of some ways in which us yoga teachers twist and turn our language upside-down instead of focusing on the anatomy and physiology behind it.  much love.

PS want to geek out more? check out some anatomy behind breathing HERE

Full article available at:


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